Few things in life compare to the thrill of playing Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, the famous “Ode to Joy” symphony as it is commonly known. Recently I played this piece for only the third time in my life and it was just as exhilarating as the first time. Most people are familiar with the last movement, which is the one with the choir and the well-known theme. However, the first three movements are just as stunning and set up the story for the action happening in the last movement.
The opening notes from the violins sound to me like the first rays of sun starting a new day. Everything is waking up. And the symphony just builds from there interweaving themes and instruments in a seamless way. It’s like listening to a novel developing the plot and the characters to tell a story of this magical day. I am completely present and focused for the entire time I’m playing, which is around 90 minutes.
As one of my musician friends once said to me, “Ah, Beethoven 9, the symphony that lasts forever and passes in the blink of an eye.” Strangely enough, that’s exactly how I feel playing it. I’m so focused and absorbed during the performance that when it ends, it’s as though I was transported somewhere for a period of time and I’m not quite sure what happened when it’s all over, but I know that something very important transpired.
This is when I must rely on my human archives to capture and claim the small magical moments and any new discoveries made, even though I’ve listened to it so many times I’ve lost count. I look forward to hearing my favorite parts such as a certain passage in the fourth movement that always makes my throat catch, or the opening of the march section which features the bassoons and always makes me want to giggle, even though it’s kind of a serious moment.
It will take me days to process everything and calm down from all the excitement and the joy I now feel from the latest performance. I enjoy being able to relive the moments purely based on what I remember and how I’ve internalized the experience. Somehow listening to a recording just isn’t the same.